Thursday, September 16, 2010

Making it Work (Without ARIS)

Teachers are an ingenious lot, that's for sure. We're experts on "making it work," as Tim Gunn would say. Some of us manage to survive weeks at a time without, say, photocopies, paper, or chalk--that or we get them on our own dime. So it came as no surprise to me that enterprising teachers have tried to beat ARIS, the $80 million boondoggle of a computer systems that many teachers still find intimidating and/or unhelpful to the point of being useless, by creating their own data tracking systems that do exactly what they want. Even I, allegedly a tech-savvy relative youngster, find ARIS to be unnecessarily cumbersome and complex. Nor am I surprised that teachers have been able to create systems that are so elegant and helpful that other schools are willing to buy them from their creators, or that (because teachers tend to be generous folks) they are practically giving them away.

No, what surprises me (though I suppose it hardly should) that this system seems to have been built without asking teachers what information and systems would actually be useful to them. I don't know that for sure, I admit, because, if I'm not mistaken, ARIS was being assembled either before I came to the DOE or while I was a petrified brand-newbie. But you would think, for $80 million, you could get a system that actually works well plus a whole bunch of cheap tablet computers so that teachers could use it during instruction. Or, for $80 million, you could get some smaller class sizes to re-place and retrain, if necessary, the ATR teachers. Or a bunch of schools in growing neighborhoods in the outer boroughs. Or the no-show jobs at charter schools, complete with Blackberries and Starbucks budgets, for NYC's best and brightest teacher bloggers. (Kidding!) I don't know, something other than a giant computer system that no one likes and that people seem forced at gunpoint to use by administrators who don't think outside the box.

Do you use ARIS? Do you know how? Is your class information on ARIS and it is accurate? Let me know if I'm off-base. It's happened before. Lord knows that Tim Gunn would probably look at some of my outfits and declare emphatically that I am not making it work.
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